Washington: The top US commander in Afghanistan will issue a request for more troops this week but President Barack Obama will hold off making a decision as his advisers engage in an intense debate about war strategy, officials have said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates had no plans to present the troop request from General Stanley McChrystal to Obama until discussions on the troubled Afghan mission were completed, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters late on Wednesday.
"I expect by the week`s end the secretary will have received General McChrystal`s resource request," Morrell said.
"But I want to make it perfectly clear that once he has it, he intends to hold onto it, until such time as the president and his national security team are ready to consider it."
He said it was "simply premature to consider additional resources" until an assessment of the war effort submitted by McChrystal was fully reviewed.
The administration has sought to defend its deliberations on Afghanistan after the leaked assessment from McChrystal this week warned of disaster without more US troops.
Gates has yet to indicate his stance publicly, and where he comes down could play a crucial role in Obama`s final decision.
"His view ultimately on more troops is still a work in progress. His thinking is still evolving," Morrell said.
The head of Central Command, General David Petraeus, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, have both endorsed the stark assessment from McChrystal, Petraeus confirmed Wednesday at a conference in Washington on counter-insurgency.
Petraeus, who oversaw the "surge" of US forces in Iraq in 2007 credited as a success, said there was a vigorous discussion underway on Afghanistan marked by "a considerable degree of intensity."
He said "the most senior leadership" in the administration planned to hold several major meetings over the next two weeks to consider the way ahead in Afghanistan, where an increasingly violent insurgency is challenging the Kabul government`s authority in the south and east.
Morrell denied there was frustration in the military leadership over the pace of decision making at the White House and rejected US media speculation that McChrystal would be ready to resign if his request for more troops was denied.
"Just absurd. Absolutely ridiculous," Morrell said.
Obama`s fellow Democrats in Congress are increasingly anxious over the Afghan mission amid rising casualties, a disputed election and declining public support for the eight-year-old war.
Over the weekend, Obama said that his administration was taking a hard look at the US approach to the war.
The discussion of strategy was being carried out as quickly as possible but would not be rushed, Morrell said.
"The secretary understands that this is a hugely consequential decision for the president, and he wants to make sure that the president and himself, frankly, are very comfortable with it before they send thousands more young men and women off to battle," he said.
The details of McChrystal`s troop request remain unclear but he is reportedly expected to ask for 10,000 to 40,00 additional forces to help turn the tide against Taliban insurgents.
In the commander`s own assessment of the war published in The Washington Post on Monday, the general paints a dire picture and warns that without more troops the NAT0-led mission faces failure.
McChrystal, who assumed command of more than 100,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan in June, said in the report the campaign in Afghanistan "has been historically under-resourced and remains so today."
The commander`s request would not be presented as a "typical request for forces," Morrell said.
"This is a more analytical look at the situation and what`s needed and the risks associated with certain troop levels. And there`s an ultimate recommendation."
Wednesday`s announcement at the Pentagon came after US media reported that defense officials had told McChrystal to put off a formal request for reinforcements.
Morrell suggested that by having the troop request sent to Gates, there would be less media attention concentrating on McChrystal.
Gates wanted to free up McChrystal from having to face "constant questions" about the status of his request, the press secretary said.
There are about 65,000 US troops in Afghanistan and the American force is due to reach 68,000 by the end of year.